Although Apple would love consumers to believe that iPod and MP3 player are interchangeable terms, there are many options for quality MP3 players on the market that aren't made by Apple.
As a long time player in the flash memory market, SanDisk was a logical company to jump in the market for small flash memory based music players. Consumers should be happy they did so.
The SanDisk Sansa e200 series is the top of the Sansa line. I have the e280 series which comes with 8GB of internal flash memory, the most offered by the series. Other players in the e200 series are functionally identical, differing only in the amount of memory. Models with 2GB, 4GB, 6GB and 8GB are offered.
The player itself is quite small, fitting nicely into your hand. I often slip in in to the pocket of my jeans or pants, where it's small enough to not be noticeable as I walk about. It sports a 1.8” screen which is quite bright and pleasant to look at. The controls are simple, with an iPod-like wheel on the front. Unlike the iPod, the wheel does not click, it only scrolls through various menu options. There are four context sensitive buttons on the sides of the wheel for choosing menu options, as well as a master power/main menu button in the lower left corner of the player.
The player has a micro SD card slot on the side. I absolutely LOVE this feature. It allows me to add up to 2GB of expansion memory and even add songs to the player on without having to formally sync it with the proprietary cable. On the other side of the player is a small “record” button, used to activate the recording features, which I haven't used enough to comment on. The top of the player has a “hold” switch for freezing the buttons – nice when you put it in your pocket.
The first thing I noticed when I turned on the player is how long it took to boot up. For some reason, it seems to want to re-index the database every time you turn it on. This can take from 30-45 seconds, which is a really long time and quite annoying.
Once on, you get a choice of several menus including: Music, Settings, Video, FM radio, Photo and Voice. To get around, you simply spin the wheel and click the center button to make a selection. Clicking the left button takes you back a level.
The music player has all the standard features: shuffle play, repeat, a nice equalizer with presets and custom settings. The player also supports playlists, which can be loaded en mass from your computers music player (I use winamp, which easily recognizes my Sansa). You can also add songs to an “on the fly playlist”, which is a nice addition if you want to make a playlist as you listen for future playback.
The Sansa uses an internal, user-replaceable lithium battery. In theory this means you don't have to send it in to the company (like an iPod) to have the battery replaced. Time will tell how easy this is to do. Battery life is quite good. I'm able to play music pretty much all day as I work and the Sansa keeps on ticking. In fact, I have it playing right now as I'm writing this – Pink Floyd's “Time” is cranked up and rockin'.
On the downside, the cable used to interface the Sansa with your computer is not a standard USB cable. It's a proprietary cable, which means you should take care not to loose it. I imagine you could get a new one from SanDisk, but it would be a pain in the rear. Also, the Sansa charges via this cable, so you'd be without power until the cable was replaced. You can buy a standard plug in the wall charger, but it's extra. It would have been nice if this were included, as without it you need to have access to a computer just to recharge the battery. Yuck!
The sound quality of the Sansa is acceptable, but not much more. With headphones, there is plenty of power and frequency response. The addition of a full-featured equalizer helps modify the sound according to your personal tastes. However when I plugged the Sansa in to a set of nice desktop computer speakers, I was a bit disappointed in the sound. There was not enough power in the little Sansa to drive the speakers at a reasonable level, despite the internal amplifier of the speakers being quite strong.
Overall, the SanDisk Sansa provides a nice alternative to the iPod. It's a well rounded player with a strong feature set for a reasonable price.